Workshop for Warriors
Women Veterans Bringing Skills to Manufacturing

Women Veterans Bringing Skills to Manufacturing

Nov. 11, 2021
By 2040, 18% of the veteran population will be women, and when they leave service manufacturing would make an excellent next career.

Here’s a statistic that might be surprising. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population, increasing by 300% over the past 20 years.

Since 2000 the number of women in the military has grown from 63,000 to 473,000. And looking ahead, by 2040 the prediction is that 18% of the veteran population will be women.

So where will those women go when they leave the military, after a few years' stint or even a 20-year military career?

Manufacturing is hoping to capture their interest. One organization that is helping veterans to make this transition is   San Diego, Calif-based,  Workshops for Warriors (WFW). It was created by veteran Hernán Luis y Prado to provide veterans transitioning out of service a path to earn certifications to begin their manufacturing careers. The organization is actively recruiting women into its program and women are involved in implementing the program as well.   

WFW,  a state-licensed  501(c)(3) nonprofit school, offers two courses, Machining for Warriors and Welding for Warriors, which provides certification after four months of training. In addition to these courses, there are paths to a variety of credentials in advanced manufacturing. 

IndustryWeek spoke with the group’s director of operations, Keshia Javis-Jones, as well as Bria Bohanon, currently a student in the welding program.  

Attracting women to the program sometimes is just a matter of communication, Javis-Jones points out. “While there are more women in the program now than when I first joined, I think it's the way that you communicate how veteran’s skills can transfer into career opportunities, is how we can bring in more women.”

The opportunities for women are many, says Javis-Jones. Not only can they perform jobs that are hands-on like welding and machining, but there are managerial opportunities in manufacturing as well.

  A Different Interview Approach

To recruit veterans into manufacturing, the interview process needs to be altered. “It’s very important for employers to understand that a candidate has not done job interviews for a long-time, especially if it’s someone who had a full military career. Companies ask very specific questions, looking for a particular answer, but the candidate might not understand that. It would be better to let the candidate talk about their skills and how they handled their responsibilities.”

She also recommends that potential employers widen their views. “While someone might have come through an infantry program and trained on weapon systems, it doesn’t mean that’s the only skills set they have. Many have responsibility for millions of dollars worth of equipment and everyone is trained to be leaders, whatever role they have.”

Javis-Jones points out that in the many conversations she has had with HR representatives across manufacturing companies she advises having a conversation, not an interview, and this will lead to finding the right person for the job.

Clear Career Development Path   

In the military, there are very specific steps to move up in the ranks. Each person knows exactly what they have to do and the time frame. This might not be the case for manufacturing companies and so Javis-Jones recommends offering a detailed layout of what the first year will look like and what expectations are of them. “This method would help a veteran plan a path at the company understanding what their milestones and goals are of within that company. 

Career planning was top of mind for Bohanon. After four years in the military, working with missile systems, she was deciding if she want to continue in the military or pursue a different career. “I enjoy working with my hands and after doing research, taking personality tests and looking at a variety of options, she chose to earn a certificate in welding through Workshops for Warriors. She had six months on her military contract when she started the program deciding that she wanted to go straight from the military to her new career.

And she has a career path planned for herself. After a few years of experience in welding, either in the automotive or aerospace sector, she wants to become a certified welding inspector. After that, she wants to become a welding engineer.

While women might first think of a career in welding, Bohanon met an army welder even before she started her military career. “I didn’t even know there were women welders, so she sparked that little interest in my head and four years later, I was able to think about that again.”

Moving into the Field

Three times a year, WFW, holds a career fair at their San Diego location. Due to COVID-19, some of the fairs were virtual. Companies that recruit, as well as support WFW, include BAE Systems, Boeing, Dassault Systemes, Ford, General Dynamic, Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., United Technology and many others. 

“It’s important for manufacturing companies to know that, although we're located in southern California, this population is willing to travel for the right career opportunities,” says Javis-Jones. “They're used to being relocated

Another consideration in terms of a career path, is understanding the financial situation that veterans are in. “While most candidates are thinking about salary, for a veteran pretty much the whole dynamic of their life is changing and that of their family as well. This is a new concept for them since in the military many things are taken care of for them.” So clearly understanding benefits will be an important factor in making a decision to choose manufacturing as their next career.

Spreading the word to women veterans that manufacturing is a great next career for them, is at the top of Javis-Jones’ to-do list. “We are making progress in attracting more women to the field and I feel we will continue to see more women enter the field.”

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